Utah may spend $1 million defending a new, tough anti-abortion law, but it's a price citizens are willing to pay to stop the tragic practice, Senate supporters of the bill said before the body gave it final approval in a 23-5 vote Wednesday.
Thursday at 8 a.m., the bill goes to a House committee for public hearing. Thursday afternoon it will be debated before the whole House, where passage is almost assured. And Gov. Norm Bangerter says he'll sign the bill the day it hits his desk, not waiting for an opinion on the bill's constitutionality by Attorney General Paul Van Dam.The rush to approve the bill stalled Tuesday, however, when House Democrats complained the Republican majority was acting too quickly, and Senate Republicans and Democrats, in a closed joint caucus, decided they didn't want to suspend Senate rules and approve the bill in one day.
Bangerter's decision to sign the bill before Van Dam can give his opinion is a bit odd, however. Last week, Bangerter said he'd seek various legal opinions, especially Van Dam's, before signing any abortion bill. But gubernatorial aides said the governor already knows the bill breaks new constitutional ground in prohibiting abortions, so most legal opinions will say it's unconstitutional. "The U.S. Supreme Court is the only one who rules on constitutionality, anyway," said Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff.
It's clear Bangerter and most lawmakers want the abortion issue decided and behind them quickly, sidestepping a long, emotional debate that won't change the outcome of the legislative action.
Sen. Karen Shepherd, D-Salt Lake, one of only four of the 29 senators to vote against the abortion bill, said Tuesday it's ironic that the vote came 14 years to the day after the famous Roe vs. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision making abortion on demand legal.
"Many women remember where they were standing (14 years ago) when they learned they had control over their lives. That was not a choice they had before," Shepherd said. "We're asked (in making this vote) the value of potential life weighed against the real, the living. Abortion is a choice that can only be made by the people who must live with it for the rest of their lives."
Sen. Robert Steiner, D-Salt Lake, said the Legislature's actions won't stop abortions and won't take the choice away from women. It will only take away safe, legal abortions, he said. He accused the Abortion Task Force, which put together the first draft of the bill, of not seeking a good-faith compromise on the abortion issue. "This bill is clearly unconstitutional. We'll see at least two years of litigation at a cost of $1 million, with minimal chance of it being upheld."
Sen. John Holmgren, R-Bear River, said there can be no real compromise on the abortion issue. "None of us can be fence riders, you have to use your own moral code, your own background and training. This is not an issue of what it will cost, not even an issue of law."
Steiner and Shepherd tried to amend the bill to allocate money to educate and give health care to the children born because of the anti-abortion measure. They also tried to insert language saying sex education in grades 8 through 12 must be provided to stop unwanted pregnancies. But Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, at the urging of Republican floor leaders, ruled the amendments out of order and not germane to the abortion bill itself.
Sen. Cary Peterson, R-Nephi, said there were 5,047 abortions in Utah last year. Only a handful were due to rape or incest, leaving more than 4,000 for "therapeutic" reasons. "That means they were a form a birth control. We're not doing a good job with families with that," said Peterson, who favors the bill.
Bill sponsor LeRay McAllister, R-Provo, said most Utahns don't know that current abortion law allows "abortion on demand." "Do you think they know that a woman can get an abortion for any reason, any whim, during the first 90 days (she's pregnant)? You couldn't have any looser abortion laws than we have now."
McAllister said the Abortion Task Force is proud of the product it produced. At the urging of Bangerter, changes have been made in the proposed law "so it can be acceptable to him (the governor)," McAllister said.
The Supreme Court has concentrated too much on the rights of the woman, said McAllister. "The pendulum must swing back to the (rights of the) unborn," he added.
At the suggestion of Brigham Young University law professor Richard Wilkins, an abortion expert, the anti-abortion bill has two parts - in legal terms, two tiers. The idea is that the Supreme Court will rule on the first tier - the more restrictive. If that tier is struck down, the second tier becomes law. That tier would then be appealed through the courts. That two-tier approach has a better chance of success before the court, experts say. But it also allows the possibility of two complete appeals to the Supreme Court - and twice the cost to the state should they both lose.
The bill does away with abortion on demand. The first tier says abortions will be allowed only in cases of rape or incest, reported before the abortion takes place; where the life of the mother is endangered or where she'd suffer life-threatening damage to her physical health; or where the fetus would be born with grave and irremediable physical or mental defects incompatible with sustained survival.
The second tier, which would become law if the Supreme Court ruled the first tier unconstitutional, prohibits abortions except in cases of rape or incest, reported before the abortion; where the woman's life is endangered or where there's grave damage to the woman's medical health; or where the fetus would be born with grave defects.
McAllister said most of the 5,000 abortions now being performed each year would be outlawed under both the first and second tier. Giving an example of the law, McAllister said he believes a child suffering from Downs syndrome could not be aborted under the first tier - since the child would have "sustained survival" - but there's a good chance the child could be aborted under the second tier provisions.
Just before the Senate debate, dozens of anti-abortion supporters rallied in the Capitol rotunda surrounded by brightly colored balloons imprinted with the message, `Unborn babies are people, too."
The newest member of the state's congressional delegation, Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, told the well-behaved but enthusiastic crowd that abortion is an issue of conscience, not politics or religion.
"I believe abortion is wrong," Orton said to applause. "I believe abortion is essentially murder."
Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, Rep. Jim Hansen, also R-Utah, and Bangerter all sent statements of support that were read to applause during the nearly hour-long memorial.